Humboldtian science  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Humboldtian science is a term given to the movement in science in the 19th century. The ideals and central themes of Humboldtian science are the result of the work of German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. However, Humboldtian science is a movement and thus is not limited to the work done by Humboldt himself, but refers to many scientists and their works.

Alexander von Humboldt is known for his highly empirical scientific work and his best recognized works are his Personal Narrative and Kosmos. The term Humboldtian science is difficult to define simply, as it incorporates many ideals and concepts. Roughly speaking, Humboldtian science was a shift toward an understanding of the interconnectedness of nature through accurate measurement. One central concept was what Humboldt called ‘terrestrial physics,’ which encompassed an extensive and pervasive study of the earth’s many features and forces with accurate scientific instrumentation. Humboldtian science is founded on a principle of ‘general equilibrium of forces.’ General equilibrium was the idea that there are infinite forces in nature that are in constant conflict, yet all forces balance each other out.

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